AURIN Nimble Chat – ENE.HUB’s Head of Digital Urbanism Adam Beck


In our latest AURIN Nimble Chat, Outreach and Communications Manager Lara Brown speaks with ENE.HUB’s Head of Digital Urbanism Adam Beck.

Together they discuss opportunities for digital twins in Australia, the need to develop international standards, the importance of effective advocacy in demonstrating the market for digital twins, and more! Thanks to Adam for joining us.


Lara Brown:  Hi this is Laura Brown. I’m AURINs Outreach and Communications Manager and today I have the pleasure of chatting with Adam Beck. So Hello Adam. 
Adam Beck:  Lara. Hello, how are you?
Lara:  Good. Thank you. Adam. You are currently head of digital urbanism at ENE.hub. So that’s E N E dot hub and short for energy hub. And you’re also chair of the digital twins working group for Standards Australia. So yeah, like to touch on that later. And you also have a podcast. So what’s what’s the name of your podcast? 
Adam:  Digital Build Australia and co-host with, industry peer, Gavin Cotterell. And we like to share stories by policymakers and practitioners who are sort of using digital twin as a set of capabilities to help improve our cities and infrastructure.
Lara: I thought we could start off by asking what you think are the most pressing problems affecting Australia at the moment? 
Adam: A great question, one that’s always relevant. I think there’s a number of significant challenges that we’ve known for a while and they’re still there. Climate Resilience.   I think that closer to home, the cost of living, child care, housing, we’ve always known that those are important, but I suppose you know, if you if you take the current national budget, year 2022-2023 You can really see those, you know, cost of living related items. You’re getting some really big buckets of money, which means that we’re trying to change something. There’s some issues we’re trying to improve. I often take my cue from the national budget, you know where our tax taxes are being spent. And for me, that highlights, you know, likely where policy is evolving, but more importantly, where we’re trying to intervene and make things better climate, energy, cost of living, mental health, those kind of things. So, so a lot of familiar a lot of familiar issues that we’ve all been advocating for for a long time. So not necessarily anything new in there. 
But I think what, what we’ll probably talk about is the data that sits behind those topics and issues and are we getting smarter and using that intelligence to inform better outcomes, but yeah, and the other thing I would say, Lara, again, not a unusual item is we’re a nation that builds stuff so infrastructure is always, always a big one. 
It’s not just infrastructure and building stuff. But I think what’s really, really coming to the fore in the last couple of years, compounded by COVID and supply chain issues is our productivity in the construction sector. And, you know, we still woefully lag behind, you know, most sectors and nations when it comes to a big part of what drives our economy.
Lara: What do you pin that on? 
Adam: Well, I’ll focus in on what I understand and what interests me which is 
innovation in construction and development, ie the lack of innovation still lags. capability, training skills. It’s a it’s a very risk averse sector. You know, when we’re layering 25 / 30% more on top of construction costs, just because that’s how you do it, because you know, you need fat in there. Like it’s just not, it’s just, it’s just not, you know, it’s just not the characteristics of a high performing sector. So, it I mean, apart from I think it’s, you know, fishing and hunting, it’s construction and development is down at the bottom of the table in terms of digital transformation.
You know, mining has gone for way before construction and development agriculture is, is leaving construction in its wake.  So it is it’s a it’s a very wasteful sector.
Lara:  Which brings me that makes me think of two things, digital twins, but before we talk digital twins, I want to talk data. So when did when did you realise having come from or having a background in sociology policymaking? When did you realize that is actually data and digital that might get us there faster on some issues on solving some problems? 
Adam:  2016, To be precise, to be precise, it was February 2016. I had a conversation with a friend based out of Portland, Oregon, deep ecologist, very smart guy, very much into sort of regenerative economics and saving the planet, very deep green. And he was trying to convince me that, that the next big front that we need to pursue in our sort of effort to stop the planet boiling was to harness the power of digital and data for the purposes of sustainability and I just kind of found that a very weird concept at the time I find it quite profound. And it led me to just noodle on it for quite some time and being a sustainability practitioner, sort of first and foremost. You know, I’ve been trying to do good things from a sustainability perspective in our industry for a long time and I’d never played in digital and data and I thought, yeah, kind of, like powerful technological advancements that could help us be better at it quicker, faster and cheaper and, and data, it kind of makes sense. And let’s know what’s going on. How do we even know if we’re getting better or, you know, we can sort of change tack or intervene. So yeah, the data and the insights that we can generate from data kind of just makes sense.
So it’s kind of like a no brainer, and I just never gotten there in my career. And I thought, well, that’s the next step in my career. I’ll give it a go. So that’s, that’s how I started in 2016.
Lara:  Yeah, amazing. And so can you share with us for those of us who aren’t in on those meetings? What’s, what’s the latest word with digital twins in Australia and how are we looking? How’s the future look for that? 
Adam:  So I’ll, I’ll work my way backwards. I think the future looks very, very optimistic. The reason being because Australia, it builds a lot of things. 
And we have, like privacy we have some of the best digital engineering expertise in the world. And not just the expertise and the human capability, but the tools and platforms that go along with that, whether it be quantum computing, whether it be multi dimensional visualization.   You know, we are innovating out the wazoo with respect to platforms and technology. 
The human elements, the people part of the capability continues to be hands down. Again our Achilles heel when it comes to when it comes to digital twin. More broadly with digital twin, we’re at an interesting place. I would describe it as being where we were with the green building movement around about 15 years ago. So the green building movement, which is now 20 years old, in Australia, you know, it started with a standard. This is what a green building is and then we went okay, well, let’s start doing that. And we found out that it was really, really hard and a lot of people dropped away and said, Oh, that’s too hard. It’s too expensive. There’s no driver, what’s the business case? why would why would I invest in a green building and then a couple of leaders went out and pursued certification against GreenStar. And it was hard and they took risks and yeah, it cost a bomb. Yeah. If you want to transform a market and move and move forward we got to have leaders so and then it was the domino effect after that.
The important thing with the green building movement as well as that first piece of research, the dollars and cents of green building, you know, in the book was put on the tables, right? There it is. There’s the research that tells you that green building is good, if not better. than non green building. So it just built momentum, and then sort of top tier developers that the pool started to grow as mid tier developers started to pursue excellence because their competitors were getting five star independent rated buildings and they weren’t and that was selling those buildings and leasing that space quicker than what the non green buildings were. So you, you sort of use the competition in the marketplace to really accelerate and anyway the rest is history. That’s a 20 year journey, right? A 20 year journey for green building to now be ubiquitous, generally, in most new commercial buildings, for example, so digital twin is way back 15 years ago.
One of the issues is we don’t have standards, generally yet. The International Standards Organization which Standards Australia are part of were participating currently in the development of for what I would call four foundational standards, one around terms and definitions and concepts, one around case studies, one around digital twin maturity and one around reference architecture.
So four foundational standards that currently a draft Word documents were participating in, along with international peers and other standards bodies with building those up I was just on a call the other night till midnight with 14 other countries debating paragraphs of how things should be written. So that’s happening that takes a little bit of time. So we’re in a moment in the digital twin market in Australia where it’s it’s new and it’s emerging. We’ve got private sector leaders that have just gone on and pursued digital twin capability development mining is one of those but very different drivers from cities for example. 
So it’s private money, it’s shareholder return. It’s it’s hyper efficiency. 
So you want the best tools, the best capability, you’ve got the money you invest in it, when it comes to, you know, a council a local authority, for example, you know, it’s a little bit more challenging they may not have the capability or the drive to do it. Why wouldn’t we?  we’re seeing a few councils develop strategies and business cases which is a really good sign. But the real leader in Australia have been the state governments New South Wales Victoria in particular, digital twin Victoria great pace, you know, 10s of millions of dollars secured through a business case they did, they’ve got a clear sort of vision. And there was a very clear business case which got the money. They’ve got a range of proof of concepts and projects that they’re building out. New South Wales has a spatial digital twin, pretty much for the entire state and now they’re kind of building the apps to go on top of it. 
Southeast Queensland, not Queensland, broadly, but southeast Queensland is just finished a business case. So you know, we’ve got some solid moves underway.  But just like green building, a significant amount of confusion about what it is, but I think there’s there’s extreme goodwill intent, knowledge sharing, and significant opportunity for all sectors public and private. And, of course, third sector, academia and research. And development and things like that. So very optimistic about our digital twin future. 
But But Lara, markets just don’t appear overnight. We’ll do a little hard work we’re going to advocate when it convinced government to do a business case or a strategy. So we got to get those those advocacy strategies in place. You know, all that good, heavy lifting. We need to do bring the community together, share stories, be willing to sort of you know, also share failures, learn from each other. We need the research. The research community is going to step up. you know, we need longitudinal research, that that helps us when you know that the why.
Lara:  I appreciate your optimism, Especially it and your candor and kind of talking about certain sectors where we can do better, Or I think that gives a nice call to perhaps researchers to do more to build the case for things like twin to appreciate that because we have a lot of researchers tune in.  Thank you for joining us
Adam: Its a pleasure Lara, thank you